Wednesday, May 03, 2006

U-M can finally eat food

Yesterday, UNICCO workers at the University of Miami won the freedom to choose a union through a variant of card-check neutrality. This will, I hope, continue to inspire other student groups to pursue campaigns like this on their campuses. It’s especially critical that these type of student-labor alliances flourish on Southern campuses, where neither the unions nor progressive students can rely on a union infrastructure. This just rocks so hard.

On a related note: I’ve heard educational institutions described as a “soft target,” for any of the following reasons:

  • Their “product’s” value relies largely on the kind of prestige susceptible to public pressure.
  • If public, they are funded directly by taxpayer dollars, if private, indirectly through grants.
  • They are not perceived as profit-seeking enterprises, nor as vital engines for economic growth, so the imperative to reduce labor costs, especially at the expense of service to students, appears unseemly.
  • They are expected to operate in an ethical manner and set that same example for students.

One theory goes that it’s not always good to focus on soft targets, since changing them has little effect on the “regular” targets that drive down standards and control industry. This argument holds water in some situations – like efforts to organize public employers while ignoring the vast private sector labor market. But in the case of universities, the “soft target” label doesn’t fit very well. For one thing, they often sub-contract with the largest operators in the service industry (like Sodexho and Aramark in food service), and universities may offer an opening foothold in unionizing these companies wholesale as opposed to contract by contract. For another – and this argument is as older than the hills round these parts – universities are grounded capital, growing in urban areas, and expanding services and jobs. So, in many cases, they can set local or regional standards in places where no other employer (or industry) could do so. They're increasingly emerging as the economic backbone of cities abandoned by other, more mobile industries. Finally, there’s all the ancillary benefits of having a unionized campus: training new activists, affecting the course of knowledge-production and research, etc. etc. etc. Those arguments take a lot of rhetorical energy to put together, and since I’m not organizing students I don’t have to make them anymore, thank fancy Moses. Go here for more.

Anyway, congratulations to the U-M workers, SEIU, and the students who fought so hard throughout for this precedent-setting win.


Josh Eidelson said...

Well said.

Also, how do you have time to go to all these concerts? We have concerts in New Haven. You should come to one. In the next two weeks. Or to one in Toronto starting in June. Or to one in Philadelphia in between.

Also, someone in the Department of Veterans Affairs went to your blog and then from there to mine. Just thought you should know.

alek said...

On some previous post I explained how I schedule concert in advance and buy lots of tickets at once. Most concerts start at 9-10PM, though, so really the question is how do I go to work the next day.